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Utagawa Kunisada (Japanese, 1736-1864)

The Actors Kasugaya, Yokijiro, and Hananaya Urazato in a Play (detail), 1856.
Nishiki-e (color woodblock print), Oban format.
Museum Coliection, 0.648.121.


“The Moon Has No Home”
Japanese Color Woodblock Prints from the
Collection of the University of Virginia Art Museum
November 22 - March 7, 2003

Gallery Talk
Weedon Lecture in the Arts of Asia
Edo then, America Now: Understanding Japanese Prints and Their Appeal
by Guest Curator Sandy Kita
Sunday, November 23, 2 pm
Reception follows in the Museum

"Japanese Color Woodblock Prints"
February 6-7, 2004

The strength of the Museum’s collection of Japanese color woodblock prints lies in an area that is still considered controversial by many Ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) connoisseurs—the mid- to late-nineteenth century. This period of stress in Japanese society marked the end of the peaceful but extremely authoritarian, reclu-sive, and feudalistic Tokugawa regime and the turbulent beginnings of a Japan that was opening itself to the West. Natural and social cataclysm were matched by the wild and sometimes anguished creativity of the daring and imaginative generations of Ukiyo-e printmakers who came after Utamaro, an artist renowned for the breathtaking elegance and serenity of his “Classical” restraint.

The Romantic passion and rebellious irony of these later printmakers are impressive, but their art is also characterized by increasing technical and emotional range, a broadening of subject matter, a fusion of Eastern and Western styles, and an existential and experimental attitude that bears the seeds of Modernism and even Post-Modernism. Traditionally
dismissed as decadent, the printmakers featured in the Museum’s collection and exhibition, including Kunisada, Kuniyoshi, and Kuniyoshi’s extraordinary pupil Yoshitoshi, are now being re-evaluated and acclaimed for their skill and innovation.

The title of the exhibition comes from a poem inscribed on a print by Yoshitoshi, who is considered the final and culminating master of Ukiyo-e. From his landmark One Hundred Aspects of the Moon series, the print depicts the poet and nun Lady Chiyo, who is best known for a poem in which she tells of her decision to borrow a bucket of water from a neighbor; her own well bucket has been ensnared overnight by morning glories, whose summer beauty she wishes to leave intact. In Yoshitoshi’s print, however, she is shown in autumn, transfixed over her fallen well bucket. The inscribed poem is a kind of counter-poem and states that
the poet has now dropped her bucket and spilled its contents, so that “the moon has no home in the water.” Although this famous incident has connotations of Zen enlightenment, Yoshitoshi’s image also emphasizes autumnal sadness and emptiness. It is perhaps now harder for the Buddhist mind to retain images of reflected purity, except through the artist’s work, which explores and redeems Japanese tradition, while at the same time absorbing the technique and awareness of the modern age.

Approximately sixty works (including diptychs and triptychs) have been selected for exhibition from a collection of three hundred. The subject matter—images of kabuki and courtesans, primarily—and the quality of the prints themselves—continue to appeal across the barriers of time and culture. Indeed, Ukiyo-e influenced both the East and the West. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, which was curated by Sandy Kita, assistant professor of Japanese art history at the University of Maryland,
College Park, and Stephen Margulies, curator of works on paper. It is made possible with the generous support of the Carpenter Foundation, the Blakemore Foundation, the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation, Virginia and Raj Paul, and private donors.